A shower for red plastic flower petals covers the rug of room 417. On the bed, there are white balloons and more petals. The television is covered with plastic candles that light up two silver alliances while a song by the Puerto Rican musician Marc Anthony plays in the background.
On the table, there's a cream cake surrounded by twelve pink and pistacho colored cupcakes. Beside it, as a witness to the scene, the face of a woman in the darkness, covered by the Puerto Rican flag, looks from an unfinished canvas. It is almost midnight on March 23rd in a New York hotel. "Today's my wedding. I am so excited!," says 22 year old Mirel A. Marrero Misla, as she embraces her two months pregnant belly.
Mirel arrived to this hotel three days ago with her 25 year old boyfriend Jorge Giovanni León López, her four year old daughter and her 57 year old mother-in-law Astrid López Pérez. Previously, they lived in a hotel in the Bronx alongside other Puerto Rican families who escaped the destruction of Hurricane María, which occurred on September 20th, 2017.
Mirel A. Marrero Misla with her four year old daughter in the hotel room where she lives after Hurricane María attacked Puerto Rico on September 2017.
It is estimated that around 174 Puerto Rican families live in New York thanks to the Transitional Shelter Assistance (TSA) program of the Agencia Federal para el Manejo de Emergencias (FEMA). Although this program ends on April 21st for some families, there is an extension until May 14, 2018 for those who are eligible.
“We can’t stay stuck in the idea that we cannot move forward,” says Mirel minutes before her wedding. “You have to get out and find those opportunities. You only have one life. At least, I’m trying to take advantage of mine under all of these circumstances.”
In a corner, Mirel’s mother, Michelle, entertains her granddaughter singing “¡Qué bonita bandera / qué bonita bandera / es la bandera puertorriqueña!” In a matter of seconds, everybody joins the chorus led by the girl clothed in a dress stamped with red and orange flowers.
Out of nowhere, there’s a knock on the door. It is Darma V. Díaz, the official in charge of celebrating the wedding ceremony. She is not a partisan of the formalisms. “I would prefer if the couple talks from the heart because it is much more natural,” she says.
Emotion takes over Mirel as she starts crying out of love. Giovanni looks at her, hypnotized by a smile of pure joy.
“With the power vested in me, by the State of New York, I declare you husband and wife. You may kiss the bride!,” Díaz says, interrupted by loud applause.
The hugs start followed by the “Long live the husband and bride,” cries, toasts with soda and distribution of the wedding cake. Like in every Puerto Rican event, the “sandwichitos de mezcla,” potato salad and trays with cheese, ham and cookies are present.
Sat on their beds, the guests look at the recent wed couple perform their wedding dance to the song “Valió la pena” by Marc Anthony.
After midnight, the wife takes off her rhinestone shoes, which she borrowed from her mother Michelle. While the girl played around, mother-in-law Astrid distributes the snacks. The mother bride, smiling the entire time, immortalizes the moment with camera from her cell phone. On the table are the wedding cake leftovers and the official signed the final documents to validate the marriage.
It was already the midnight of Sunday March 25th inside the hotel when the young couple promised their eternal love against wind and tide.
“I love my Puerto Rico,” Mirel affirms with emotion. “That’s in my veins. I can be in China and I’ll continue being Puerto Rican, but sadly sometimes in life we have to find success on other places.”